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A while back I posted about the value of dozenalism. I recently experienced one of dozenalism’s additional benefits.

Have you ever had to tally a fairly large number of things without access to writing tools? How do you keep count?

Lots of folks count their fingers in such a situation. It’s a pretty good idea. In fact, some people suppose that decimal numbers arose from this very practice.

But what if you have to count more than ten things? I imagine you tend to log a ten mentally and reset your fingers to zero. You remember how many tens you have and track the ones digitally. That works pretty well when you’re counting less than about fifty things.

But suppose you have to count about 300 things (something I have to do at work with some frequency). You’d have to remember 30 tens. You could easily lose track of how many tens you’ve logged, and you probably can’t guess how many tens you forgot very confidently within that 3% margin of error.

If you really want to stick to digital counting you can improve it a bit by counting up to five on one hand and counting the fives on the other hand. That takes you up to 25 (or 30) before you have to log a mental count. That helps.

But why limit yourself with digital counting when phalangeal counting is easier and better?

We have twelve phalanges (or knucklebones) on the four fingers of our hands. That lets you count up to a dozen on one hand, using the thumb as a pointer (which you can’t do very well with digital tallies). Then each time you hit a dozen, you can count those dozens on the phalanges of the other hand. You don’t have to log any count mentally until you get to one gross, or 144.

Remembering a mental count of gross is far easier than a count of tens. And if you forget, you can easily estimate how many gross you’ve got if you’re only counting several hundred items.

Next time you have to count a lot of things, try this. See if you don’t prefer it. Just remember that you’re tracking ones on the knuckles of one hand, dozens on the knuckles of the other, and gross in your mind.

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